Quantifying Culture: The Value of Visualization inside (and outside) Libraries, Museums, and the Academy
This paper has been accepted for Electronic Visualization and the Arts EVA London 2012
Maps, diagrams, illustrations, and other visual materials have long been part of cultural institutions, as well as the academic disciplines of the arts, sciences, and humanities. In the past several years, these visual materials have been increasingly centered on quantitative data, with sensors, geotags, social networks, and “big data” now occupying the forefronts of research and public engagement. With this use of quantitative data comes the need for more sophisticated and adequate visual representations, particularly through the field of information visualization (i.e., infovis). In this paper, I explore five ways in which infovis can enrich the visual culture of libraries, museums, and the academy: (1) digital, interactive visualizations can take advantage of linked data to provide participants with richer, contextualized experiences (e.g., reading a Modern novel in an interface that shows images of the natural wildlife of author’s time); (2) high-volume, longitudinal datasets allow for a macroscopic perspective of events, in which patterns, processes, and systems-level phenomena all become visible; (3) the cognitive science foundations of infovis help produce designs that extend working memory and amplify cognition, allowing many viewers to grasp large, complex data for the first time; (4) the empirical foundations of quantitative data collection help to wash out biases by aiming at more neutral and accurate representations of events—when counting, count everything; and (5) this empirical validity helps to produce visualizations that are more ethical in the sense that they are more inclusive of various groups and disinterested on the whole—the victors can still write history, but only insofar as they can measure it (and cannot avoid all measurements of it).
Read the full version in the conference proceedings.